Featured Image
 giulio napolitano /

ROME, December 22, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Today, during his annual Christmas address to the Vatican’s top officials, Pope Francis laid out his vision for his ongoing reform of Vatican structures, while also mounting a brief but pointed critique of unnamed individuals who are “resisting” the reform.

Vatican watchers were paying close attention to see how the pope would address the ongoing saga of the four Cardinals who are calling for clarity on fundamental questions of conscience and morality in Amoris Laetitia.

But, in a tack similar to his treatment of Communion for the divorced and remarried in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis approached the question of “resistance” in an ambiguous way, leaving it open to interpretation whether or not his sharpest words were directed at orthodox prelates defending the Church’s Tradition.

He said there are “good cases of resistance,” but also highlighted a form of “malicious resistance” that “takes refuge in traditions,” and which is inspired by the devil.

“There can be cases of open resistance, often born of goodwill and sincere dialogue, and cases of hidden resistance, born of fearful or hardened hearts content with the empty rhetoric of 'spiritual window-dressing’ typical of those who say they are ready for change, yet want everything to remain as it was before,” he said, according to the Vatican’s translation.

“There are also cases of malicious resistance, which spring up in misguided minds and come to the fore when the devil inspires ill intentions (often cloaked in sheep’s clothing),” he said. “This last kind of resistance hides behind words of self-justification and often accusation; it takes refuge in traditions, appearances, formalities, in the familiar, or else in a desire to make everything personal, failing to distinguish between the act, the actor, and the action.”

IMPORTANT: To respectfully express your support for the 4 cardinals' letter to Pope Francis asking for clarity on Amoris Laetitia, sign the petition. Click here.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has used the customary Christmas address to the curia as an opportunity to lay out his papal vision, while criticizing unnamed opponents. In 2014 he enumerated 15 “ailments” that plague the Vatican bureaucracy. In 2015, he spoke of the “sicknesses” that have befallen the Roman Curia. He added 12 “medicines” like gentleness, alertness, sobriety, and humility as antidotes for these sicknesses.

The 12 ‘guiding principles’ of Pope Francis’ reform

During this year’s address, he reflected on the underlying principles of the Vatican reform he is pursuing, emphasizing that it is ultimately about “conversion” rather than a “face lift,” with the goal of helping the Curia “conform ‘to the signs of the times’” so as to better promote the Gospel to the modern world.

“It isn’t wrinkles we need to worry about in the Church, but blemishes!” he said.

“The reform of the Curia is in no way implemented with a change of persons – something that certainly is happening and will continue to happen – but with a conversion in persons,“ he said.

“Permanent formation is not enough; what we need also and above all is permanent conversion and purification.  Without a change of mentality, efforts at practical improvement will be in vain.“

Much of the Pope’s address focused on 12 “guiding principles” of the reform process: individual responsibility, pastoral concern, missionary spirit, clear organization, improved functioning, modernization, sobriety, subsidiarity, synodality, catholicity, professionalism, and gradualism.

For Pope Francis, “modernization” involves “an ability to interpret and attend to the ‘signs of the times.’” He explained that the Dicasteries of the Curia must work in a way that is more appropriate to the needs of the Universal Church.

Regarding professionalism, the Pope said the practice of “promoting to remove” (“promoveatur ut amoveatur”), in which someone is given a higher position to remove them from a difficult situation, is a “cancer” that must be eliminated.

Under “catholicity,” he called for a greater integration of women and lay people at the Vatican, including to leadership positions, as well an increasing attention to “multiculturalism” in hiring.

“It is fitting to provide for the hiring of greater numbers of the lay faithful, especially in those Dicasteries where they can be more competent than clerics or consecrated persons,” he said. “Also of great importance is an enhanced role for women and lay people in the life of the Church and their integration into roles of leadership in the Dicasteries, with particular attention to multiculturalism.”

Lay employees, he said, should be “carefully selected on the basis of their unexceptionable spiritual and moral life and their professional competence.”

The inclusion of “gradualism” on the list is a matter of concern, given that it was a term used at the Synod on the Family to allow the gradual process of admitting people in irregular situations to Communion. In his Christmas address, he says that reforms can be approved as an experiment, but does not indicate what type of reform he has in mind. “Gradualism has to do with the necessary discernment entailed by historical processes, the passage of time and stages of development, assessment, correction, experimentation, and approvals ad experimentum.  In these cases, it is not a matter of indecision, but of the flexibility needed to be able to achieve a true reform.“

After listing his twelve “guiding principles,” Pope Francis went through a list of changes made to the Curia thus far.

Then at the end he handed out a Christmas gift: a book called Industriæ pro superioribus eiusdem Societatis, ad curandos animae morbos, which was written by the third general superior of the Jesuits and deals with the “illnesses of the soul.”

RELATED: Who are the four Cardinals who wrote the dubia to the Pope?